Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan at the 2012 Republican National Convention/
photo by Alan Clanton, Thursday Review

Ryan Says He’s Not Running:

But Other Candidates Share His Vision

| published April 27, 2016 |

By R. Alan Clanton , Thursday Review editor

U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan says he isn’t running for President. He has said it many times in recent weeks, and last week issued a Lyndon Johnson-like blanket statement, including a declaration of “I will not seek, nor will I accept…” paraphrase of LBJ’s famous speech.

But as the fight for the Republican nomination drags on, with front-runner Donald Trump amassing what may soon be an insurmountable lead even as rivals Ted Cruz and John Kasich vow to battle onward toward a contested convention, talk of a “third way” has only accelerated. Speaker Ryan remains at the top of the list of anti-Trumps—candidates with the ability to unite the GOP if Trump is denied the nomination in Cleveland.

Though Trump leads in the delegate count, his rivals—especially Cruz—have amassed their own substantial slate of delegate, enough, some math experts believe, to prevent Trump from winning outright on the first round of balloting. Under Republican National Committee rules, if no candidate achieves the necessary 1,237 delegate votes upon completion of the first ballot at the convention, then delegates begin the process of being released to vote as they choose. Though the door swings both ways, as Trump often points out, Cruz and Kasich have made no particular secret of the fact that their strategies now depend almost entirely on an inconclusive first round of votes, triggering an “open” convention, also known as a contested convention.

“Open” convention is a nice way to describe the sort of convention Republicans have not experienced since 1964—the last year that the delegate count at the time of the opening gavel essentially preordained the outcome. The only time since 1964 that the GOP has seen any real drama was in 1976, when President Gerald Ford and challenger Ronald Reagan fought feverishly and tenaciously for every delegate, battling to the very doors of the convention. Ford managed to prevail on the first ballot.

In the meantime, get ready for what may be the first truly brokered convention for the Republicans in generations.

Trump’s massive wins on Tuesday, April 26 have basically left the anti-Trump forces with few battlefield moves remaining. The combined forces of Cruz and Kasich—along with the delegates pledged to some of the non-active candidates, such as Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina and other anti-Trumps—still means that the billionaire will likely come up short on delegate strength by the time the convention comes to order this summer.

By late Tuesday night, Trump was declaring himself “the presumptive nominee,” adding in his boisterous style, “as far as I am concerned, it is over.” He has reason to gloat.

Trump won smashing victories in all five states where GOP voters went to the polls Tuesday, including Pennsylvania (where Midwesterner Kasich has hoped to pull off a surprise). Trump also rolled to big wins on the states where he was expected to win: Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This cluster of states was already Trump territory, but as far as his team is concerned, the sweep of all five contests (by big margins) should by all rights put an end to the fight.

But the anti-Trump forces are persistent (if not consistently late to each new engagement) if nothing else. Cruz and Kasich had, as of late last week, entered into the sort of geographically strategic pact already proposed by former GOP nominee Mitt Romney—a pick-and-choose process whereby Cruz and Kasich would systematically withdraw from some states, allowing the other to defeat Trump. It’s a perfectly rational and sane plan, but the anti-Trump candidates should have engaged this form of delegate starvation months ago. Though was not clear that the pact would last more than a few days—in fact both were already trying to undo talk of the pact by early in the week—the arrangement certainly seemed like a viable Hail Mary pass in a football game well into its 4th quarter.

Cruz is also hoping to deflate some of Trump’s balloons by taunting the media with talk of running mates—a strategically risky move which Cruz hopes nevertheless pay dividends. Cruz has announced that he has chosen former HP CEO Fiorina to be his running-mate, a move seen as smart inasmuch as Fiorina was once one of several darlings of the same anti-Washington sentiment which propelled Trump to the top of the pack last year. Fiorina has already endorsed Cruz, and she has also been seen campaigning with him at selected events.

But mathematically the anti-Trump movement is running out of time, and the clock no longer favors a prolonged fight. If Cruz (or Kasich, for that matter) lose in Indiana’s upcoming primary—in which the winner gets all of the delegate slate—Trump’s numerical advantage becomes too great to overcome, through any strategy. In essence, a Trump win in Indiana closes the door to all options for the anti-Trump forces except a bloody, grueling convention fight in which the party veers away from Trump—possible only if Trump misses the mark of 1,237 delegates.

Enter Paul Ryan…again. Though Ryan has repeatedly said he has no intention of seeking the Republican nomination, his ability to unify the party regulars—conservatives and moderates and Tea Partiers alike—makes his last-minute entry into the race tantalizing to thousands of potential supporters. Indeed, the harder Ryan tries to quell the talk of his candidacy, the more his would-be supporters attempt to chum the waters in his favor.

But on Wednesday, Ryan demurred again, telling CNN that he was not interested in the Presidency at this time, and listing instead his goals as Speaker of the House. He also attempted to quell the narrative created by Trump that the system is unfair and “rigged” against the will of the voters. Asked about a contested—or brokered convention—the result no doubt of a floor fight between Cruz, Trump and Kasich, Ryan said everything will be on the up-and-up.

“It’s going to be done fairly and transparently,” Ryan told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota in an effort to quash talk of backroom deals and a GOP establishment intent on stealing the nomination from Trump. But Ryan also seemed to seemed to suggest that the door swings both ways.

“We are a country based upon a very important principle—the rule of law,” Ryan said. “And that means: we don’t bend the rules based on the wins of the day. We play the rules by the rules. We follow the rules. That is how our party is organized...that’s how the convention will be structured. And we will stick to the rules so that we don’t bend them for anybody.”

That statement, meant on the surface to appease Trump and his legions of followers, has also been seen as a coded message to Trump himself: the party has no intention of bending the rules for the billionaire front-runner either.

Ryan told CNN that he has spoken extensively to the three active candidates, and that all three—Trump, Cruz, Kasich—understand and share his vision for the immediate future of the Republican Party, as well as the long-term goals of the GOP. Attempting to diffuse concerns that the epic battle between Trump and those aligned against him could split the party and damage the GOP brand, Ryan said he was confident that the party could unite itself by the time of the convention, and that the GOP would prevail in the fall.

Ryan was equally candid in a CBS interview with Nora O’Donnell and Charlie Rose the day before. When O’Donnell suggested that Ryan was operating what amounts to “a parallel policy shop” to the major candidates, Ryan pleaded no contest, adding that waiting until the closing day of the convention is “too late” in modern politics. During that CBS interview Ryan also stressed—again—that he is not available to become the Republican nominee, even in the event of a deadlocked or contested convention. He said his family was not prepared for the rigors and stresses of running for President—another lesson he learned after his vice-Presidential run in 2012 alongside Mitt Romney.

In the meantime the fight for every delegate has become intense. Currently, Trump has about 980 pledged delegates, Cruz has 562, and Kasich has 159. Trump’s wins on Tuesday took him a substantial distance close to his goal, but he could still fall short. Cruz and Kasich picked up a smattering of delegates in Rhode Island, which distributes proportionally, but Trump swept most of the remaining delegates in the other four primary states.

Cruz plans to put all his chips at the center of the table in Indiana, where his social conservative base is strong and where his support has swelled in recent weeks. His pact with Kasich could pay off in the Hoosier State if the Ohio Governor agrees to steer clear and campaign elsewhere. Though Trump leads in most polls in Indiana, the same polls show Cruz within striking distance—and ripe for an upset.

But Cruz may have run afoul of the sacred institution of basketball by referring awkwardly to the basketball hoop as a “basketball ring” in the same high school venue where the classic movie Hoosiers was filmed. The gaffe cost him dearly in social media and with the late night comics, many of whom had a field day with the Texan’s apparent ineptitude on the hardwood court.

So much for a slam-dunk in Indiana.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Delegate Math: It Gets Complicated; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; April 11, 2016.

Does Trump's Negative Polling Signal Problems for the GOP?; Keith H. Roberts; Thursday Review; April 8, 2016.